By Rabbi Morley T. Feinstein of University Synagogue
I’ve now spent 33 summers at camp, where I’ve served as a member of the rabbinic faculty for a few weeks. I get a chance to meet wonderful people who love kids, work with all ages of campers, help deal with staff, counselor, or camper issues, provide leadership to experiential Jewish learning programs, discuss God or prayer or Israel or Judaism with kids across a wood bench or lying on a field of grass, and pray under the stars. I see kids make choices every day which connect their personal lives to their community. Unencumbered by the usual distractions of earphones, iPhones and iPads, there’s a genuine opportunity to deal with real human issues in a close and warm manner. Choices are genuine here, not filled with peer pressure.
No matter what kind of camp, there’s something unique and special and almost inviolate about taking city kids out and away from their usual environments, to a place where the beauty of nature is not a page in Wikipedia but part of every day. Perhaps it is being out of doors that sustains the comfort of campers’ choices. Being near a lake, hiking in the woods, getting splashed in a canoe or kayak, dreaming alongside a mountain or stargazing from the top of a hill refreshes the soul for all of us, and especially our kids. Camp is a place where kids can be themselves, feel safe, explore what’s in their hearts, and be accepted for who they really are. And they learn that actions have consequences, that words have meaning.
It’s not only a safe place to explore issues about God and faith, but also a living laboratory where our traditions and values are lived and breathed and cherished as a normal way of life ‘round the clock. Highlights of research show that kids who have spent time at Jewish sleep-away summer camp are: 30% more likely to donate to a Jewish charity;
45% more likely to attend synagogue; 37% more likely to light Shabbat candles; 55% more likely to be very emotionally attached to Israel.
We must commend their parents who affirm the mission of Jewish Camping: to help children and young adults develop their personal identities, to experiment and grow their Jewish connections, to develop a greater sense of self and independence, to build community, to bond with Israel, to foster self-reliance and greater self-esteem.
At Camp Newman we live the Jewish value of B’tzelem Elohim – based on the principles of community, acceptance, and role-modeling. We strive each day to recall that all are created in the divine image. Each of us has unique gifts and talents. We are fortunate to be part of a community that discovers and praises the blessings of every individual.
Rabbi Israel of Rizhin once asked a student how many sections there were in the Shulchan Arukh, the code of Jewish Law. The student replied, “Four.” “What,” asked the Rizhiner, “do you know about the fifth section?” “But there is no fifth section,” said the student. “There is,” said the Rizhiner. “It says: always treat a person like a mensch.” Camp is a place to help make mensches.